Like most anime fans, I only heard of Genki Kawamura after Your Name became a smash hit around the world. As one of the producers of Your Name, Kawamura is sometimes credited with making Makoto Shinkai’s infamously obtuse and sentimental style of film making accessible to mainstream audiences for the first time… although I don’t know how much influence Kawamura really had on the storytelling itself. Regardless, he’s a big personality in his own right, which is something you don’t often see with Japanese anime producers.
Besides the Shinkai connection, Kawamura has also been a producer on Mamoru Hosoda’s films, another big name among anime film makers. Yet the biggest reason Kawamura stands out is because he writes and direct films himself, and he also publishes novels and picture books. His debut novel If Cats Disappeared From the World (first published in 2012) recently got an English translation last year.
As Kawamura explained in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he’s thought of as strange in Japan because of this. A big difference between Japanese and Hollywood producers is that the director and producer’s role are clearly defined in Japan, meaning that their roles rarely ever cross over. In addition, most Japanese producers are studio employees. Kawamura himself belongs to the Japanese film chain Toho, so his film projects represent Toho rather than himself as an individual. This means that although producers can and will influence things behind the scenes, their name is rarely ever the selling point.
…Except when it is. In November last year, Shout! Factory wrote an advertorial on Anime News Network that begins like this: “From Genki Kawamura, the producer of the worldwide anime sensation Your Name, comes Fireworks, a title worth adding to your growing anime movie collection.”
Putting aside the fact that this advertisement is extremely misleading because it makes out that Your Name and Fireworks have a lot in common creatively when the connection is only tenuous at best, it is fascinating to see Genki Kawamura elevated to the status of “showrunner” in the advertising materials. Even if that wasn’t his role in Your Name and Fireworks in particular, Kawamura has taken on that kind of role for anime before – for example, he wrote the screenplay for Doraemon the Movie: Nobita’s Treasure Island. So it’s steadily become more obvious to me that Kawamura is a fascinating figure in the world of anime production.
Kawamura is an even bigger deal when you look outside the world of anime. He’s been involved in Train Man, Moteki, Confessions, among other critically acclaimed and commercially successful live-action films. He’s also one of the people working directly with J.J. Abrams on that live-action Your Name remake. (He was almost certainly one of the people on the Japanese side telling the live-action film crew to make a “Westernised” take on the story.) You can’t fault this man for his ambition and willingness to try new things.
All of this made me curious… is Genki Kawamura a good writer himself? I read If Cats Disappeared From the World to see for myself. It’s a simple story about a man who is about to die, and the devil tells him he can prolong his life one day at a time if he chooses to remove certain things he valued in his life from existence. Although a bit preachy and too on-the-nose about its messages, it’s a nice and quick read. And, of course, if you’re a cat lover, you’ll love this book, so it’s easy enough to recommend.
There was one thing I was struck by in particular. At one point, there’s a scene where the protagonist runs towards an encounter he knew he always had to face, and you never find out how exactly it plays out. It’s left only to implication. It reminded me a lot of the scene where Mitsuha confronts her father in Your Name, as well as the scene just before the end credits.
Long story short: Yeah, Genki Kawamura is the real deal. I couldn’t get a complete picture of what kind of creative person he is just from that one book. But I got the impression that he’s definitely got a good grasp of why certain dramatic techniques are so effective. It’s made me interested in checking out his other novels and films, and I’ll definitely be watching out for his name in the future. Turns out Your Name’s producer is kind of a big deal!